Eccentric, random and unusually funny, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency tells the story of private investigator Dirk Gently who re-friends past university student, Richard MacDuff, to help solve the death of Richard’s magazine-owning boss, Gordon Way (Callum Walker).
Written by James Goss and Arvind Ethan David, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is based on the British detective novel written by Douglas Adams in 1987. The novel is often associated with the ever-famous Sherlock Holmes, written by Arthur Conan Doyle, and with Dirk Gently staying close to Sherlock’s basic detective plot-line, but adding a modern, nerdy and comedic-twist. It’s easy to imagine why fans of Sherlock would also greatly appreciate Dirk Gently.
Director Arthur McKechnie and producer Jess Donn did an outstanding job on the organization and decoration of the set. The stage was cleverly divided up into five settings which were split by having two levels of staging. The different sets were intricately decorated with props and details which allowed no confusion for audience members to envisage which rooms were being presented.
“I began to get frustrated with the slow progress of the play”
As the play began, we saw Beth Mullen grace the stage with eccentric clothing and a hyperbolic posh accent, in which she introduced herself as Dirk Gently and her profession as a holistic detective. With the other characters joining the stage gradually, Dirk’s relentless talking meant the plot-line was frequently interrupted as Dirk maintained the focus of the play. Although this could be seen as a clever strategy in developing the plot, it did drag on a bit too long for my liking, and I began to get frustrated with the slow progress of the play.
As the play began to unravel I discovered that this interruption of plot was continued. With random outbursts of aliens and horses in bathrooms, I struggled to grasp the point of why this was necessary. However, being an audience member who was ignorant of the plot, I learnt that, in testament to the team, this was in-line with Adam’s original novel and it was just me who didn’t find this part of the play very appealing.
“Every pun, clumsy fall, and nerdy joke was awarded outbursts of laughter from the audience”
With Dirk Gently associated with its slapstick comedy and humour, it is evident that the play did not disappoint. Every pun, clumsy fall, and nerdy joke was awarded outbursts of laughter from the audience, outbursts so loud that sometimes actors lines could not be heard for a short while. However, although many found Dirk Gently funny, for me it was a bit too dramatic and not-in-line with my own idea of humour. One prominent point was during Richard MacDuff’s hypnosis, in which when hearing Dirk’s trigger word, burst out into song, singing along to ‘Greased Lightning’ whilst the other cast members joined him on stage in 90’s gym clothes dancing along. Although Daniel McVey’s singing skills should be highly commended, having a random song and dance routine that lasted a solid 5 minutes was not something I found funny or relevant to the plot.
Instead for me, the humour relied on the relatability of the play (relatable not being something which happened very often.) Susan Way’s (Margaux Valarche) random outbursts of frustration and anger towards boyfriend Richard MacDuff was for me the funniest part of the performance. Having a girl on stage debating whether she should call her boyfriend or not, along with screaming and wishing he was dead, along with the long list of insults she gave out when seeing him later, was a moment which resonated with the audience, bringing humour and a modern aspect to the play.
“Beth Mullen’s performance of Dirk and Joe Strickland’s performance of Reg were truly amazing”
One thing that cannot be faulted is the quality of acting from all of the cast. Beth Mullen’s performance of Dirk and Joe Strickland’s performance of Reg were truly amazing. Both actors developed the quirky and eccentric behaviours of their well-known characters, including their hyperbolic voices and movements on stage. Eric Crouch’s performance of Michael Wenton-Weakes can also be commended. He was able to frequently switch between personas (one of which was a 4-billion-year old murdering alien can I just note) and maintain his high energy on stage throughout. Although I distinctly remember a few technical mis-slips and many forgotten and hesitated lines, for a first performance it is hard to criticise their great talent as actors.
“I think the play could have been better divided”
Although the first half of the play for me was painfully slow, this was a stark contrast to the second. The latter half attempted to explain most of the plot, where we learnt who murdered who, why there were aliens, why there was a horse in the bathroom and how time travelling works (along with massive amounts of physics, maths and other science-y topics which went completely over my head.) For me the second half was more action-packed but also felt a bit rushed and with an abrupt ending; I think the play could have been better divided.
Overall, the play was well-staged and showcased some amazingly talented actors. However, for me, the humour was perhaps a bit too random and nerdy, which I think created a small niche of audience members who would have actually liked and appreciated the play, leaving others a bit disappointed and confused. The play was also stunted in some places, which in my opinion required a push to get it progressing again. It was a brave production which certainly did the original novel some justice.
All images courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre Official Facebook Page.